Legendary lawyer had 'Cross' to bear during World War I

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

While his father founded the firm that would become Miller Canfield Paddock and Stone, it was the son who etched his name among Detroit’s “Legal Legends.”

Sidney Trowbridge Miller, a native Detroiter and a Harvard Law grad, joined his father’s firm in 1888, quickly establishing himself as a successful corporate lawyer and a community leader in the metro area. A star athlete during his student days, Miller “traded in his spikes and shoulder pads for a well-cut three-piece suit and distinguishing white carnation” as a member of the Detroit legal profession, according to a profile that appeared in The Detroit Legal News during its centennial in 1995.

“Miller followed his father into corporate law and became involved as a director or general counsel to such businesses as the Detroit Savings Bank, the Wyandotte Savings Bank, the Detroit Trust Co., and the United States Radiator Corp.,” according to The Legal News story, which was published as part of a magazine highlighting 16 Detroit “Legal Legends” over the course of the paper’s first 100 years.

“But when he died in 1940, the headlines focused more on his volunteer contributions to the community and to his profession,” the story noted.

An officer of the American Bar Association, Miller served three terms as president of the Detroit Bar Association, and was instrumental in the creation of a law library for the fledgling organization.

“It was under his leadership that the DBA put together its library,” The Legal News wrote. “The collection of 21,000 volumes of up-to-date textbooks and law reports made membership in the DBA much more valuable.

“The association went from 300 to 1,000 members in the years right after the establishment of the library. A grateful bar honored the former bar president and library founder at a dinner on Feb. 3, 1917.”

The tribute came at a time when World War I was raging in Europe, causing catastrophic loss of life across the continent. Miller, who devoted much of his free time to a variety of charitable causes in Metro Detroit, had a special place in his heart for the work of the Red Cross, which was being stretched to its limits as it provided aid to war victims.

“When WWI opened in August 1914, however, Miller sacrificed all other interests and devoted his full attention to the Red Cross,” according to the profile piece. “The group of a few hundred had formed to meet local emergencies or disasters, so under Miller’s leadership they had to reposition themselves. In their new role as guardian angels to a suffering Europe, the Detroit chapter collected and forwarded money and materials.”

When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Miller’s volunteer post “took on even larger dimensions” as the Red Cross scrambled to meet the growing need for aid. The national Red Cross was calling for $100 million in relief funds, while Michigan was asked to contribute $3 million to the effort.

“Drawing on his ‘wide acquaintances throughout the state,’ Miller recruited a bureau of able speakers who went from county to county asking for people’s time and money to support relief efforts,” The Legal News wrote. “Within months Michigan surpassed its quota in dollars and time. Coinciding with the fund-raising, Miller also was organizing chapters of the Red Cross in each county.”

In recognition of such work, Miller years later received his due from a biographer, who captured the giving spirit of a man destined to be remembered a century later.

“Michigan’s record in Red Cross work may well be regarded with pride by all of the citizens, and by far the largest share of the credit for this splendid result is due to Mr. Miller’s untiring efforts and willingness to sacrifice all other interests in order to devote himself to this great cause,” the biographer reported.

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